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Steaming milk on a Sunbeam 6910

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  • Steaming milk on a Sunbeam 6910

    Hi,

    I've just recently upgraded from a Sunbeam EM4800C to a EM6910C. Boy, what a difference! I struggled with the milk steaming - I used to have perfection with the microfoam on my 4800C but I was all over the place on this new machine. Just goes to show that every machine has a learning curve. At 8 cups a day, it took me 1 week to start getting something reasonable, and four weeks to be back to where I'm happy again.

    I've read a few threads of people commenting on this aspect (as I was desperately trying to find out what I was doing wrong!), and for those who stated that they were giving up, or accepted that this machine just couldn't do it, I thought I'd post something specific on this machine, from the point of view of one who might have used a basic lower end domestic machine.

    1) First, you don't need to be told that this machine has higher steam output than you might be used to. Of course, it is nowhere near a commercial machine, but it is a step up anyway. I find it steams my standard 250ml in the Sunbeam 600ml jug in half the time of my 4800C.

    2) There are a million ways you can point the steam wand and hold the jug, but I'm going to show what I've found is a good way to do it. I'm going to show photos and a video. Again, this is not the only way, but certainly one way that works.

    3) First thing I noticed was that the wand comes out the left hand side on the 6910 and out the right hand side on the 4800C. Sounds simple, but it took me a few days to get the hang of doing things the opposite way!

    4) Placing the steam wand. I have it pointing down quite sharply (not so much so that the jug will hit the drip tray - it has to fit beside the drip tray, esle you won't be able to lower it), and leaning forward just slightly. See the two photos.

    5) Fill the jug to just below where the spout starts. For me, 8mm or so below there fills the cups I use with a small amount to spare.

    6) Having purged the water out of the wand into a spare coffee mug, insert the tip of the steam wand well below the surface and turn it on. The wand arm should rest in, or come close to resting in, the spout. You will note that I put my thermometer on a clip against the wall just past where the milk comes from the steam wand. I did try other locations (including just holding by hand as was my previous custom), but some caused turbulance, which is an enemy of good milk steaming (why? turbulance makes it very difficult to keep the tip at an exact height relative to the surface of the milk).

    7) Slowly raise the tip until air is suddenly drawn in. At the start (before any foaming has occurred) the first gulp of air will tend to be excessive and create large bubbles. Don't worry, these get incorporated into the milk after a few seconds.

    8) Now the hard part begins. You need to very carefully control the jug height so that just the right amount of air gets drawn in. Note that I have my left hand resting on the benchtop (holding the handle), and my right hand resting on the drip tray (holding the spout which doesn't get too hot). You slowly lower the jug a fraction of millimeter every second or so. I lower it a tiny amount in time with the pump noise! You'll get the hang of how much to lower it by, depending on whether you want a flat white (not much), a latte (a bit more), or a cappuccino (quite a lot). It might help to rest the arm against the side of the jug (actually, in the spout) to steady things.

    9) At a certain point (you'll get to know it) you finish adding air by moving the tip well below the surface. This point might be about 10 seconds after you start, or around 30 degrees on the thermometer. From here on its easy. You just wait until the temperature gets up to about 60 degrees in accordance with how hot you like it. Then turn it off, and wipe the steam wand with a damp cloth.

    10) During all this time, you are aiming to have the milk swirling around in a whirlpool, without wild turbulance. Depending on the angle of the wand out the side (See Front 6910.jpg), this whirlpool could go clockwise around the jug (when looking in), or what tends to happen for me at the angle shown, it tends to go down along the bottom of the jug and reappear on the back side of the jug. It doesn't really matter - what you are looking for is it to be spinning around somehow (promotes good mixing) and be back at a consistent height by the time it reaches the tip of the steam wand again. Until you get good at this it will seem you go from having no air introduced to suddenly having huge gulps of air making monstrous bubbles. The key is consistent spinning, and VERY careful adjustment of the tip location compared to the milk height. You might try lifting the wand up more (i.e. raising the tip in Front photo) but I found that made larger bubbles.

    11) Finally for latte art, once finished steaming, it should be look like wet paint. There will usually be a few surface bubbles (some of these get caught on the wand, and against the side of the jug, especially in the spout area). Give the jug ONE, medium tap on the bench. You will see all these bubbles pop. Then give the jug a few swirls, and this helps the milk and foam stay nicely combined, then pour quickly. Do not keep thumping the jug on the bench. This causes much of the foam to collapse, and will be disappointingly evident when you pour it.

    12) If going for a cappuccino, I leave the jug resting on the bench for a minute. Give it a swirl or two, and you'll see much of the foam has separated out into a big blob. Pour the milk with whatever foam comes out into the cup until it's near the top. Rest your finger across the spout leaving a small gap remaining, then pour into the sink. The idea is to pour off the milk, leaving the foam. Then tip the remaining foam into the cup. It should look fantastic, and can easily sit 5mm higher than the top of the cup, retaining a nice 3D texture shape on the surface!

    13) Lastly, the steam settings. Set the steam temperature to maximum. I've seen a bit of variation in what people recommend for the dryness, but I use maximum dryness. Download and print my Cheat Sheet (in another thread) if you're going to want to regularly fiddle with these settings, to save you searching through the manual).

    It has taken me 3 to 4 weeks to get to the point where my wife says I've got my mojo back! It was a bit frustrating at first. I've attached a photo of the regular pour I do for my wife, taken yesterday. I like this one particular art (of my own design, I believe) because it's very forgiving and reproducible. She gets it four times a day, so it has to be!

    I've attached a link here to a video of me steaming into the Sunbeam 600ml jug here. The video finishes early, but from where its finishes, you just do nothing, and wait for the temp to reach 60 degrees.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWn0Et_76c0&feature=plcp

    Haha - I've just noticed how slow that steaming action was! It should be much quicker - yes, you guessed it, the tip was partially blocked! Anyway, you get the idea, I'm not filming it again. And, yes, I do have the old style tip, a real ** to keep clean!

    Hope the above helps someone.

    Cheers,

    Tassiebean
    Attached Files

  • #2
    Great work, TassieBean, thanks!

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    • #3
      OK, despite my post above, I'm now having all sorts of trouble steaming milk on this machine. Its taken a while to narrow down the problem, but I've now figured out something that correlates with when the problem occurs.

      I start to steam milk as described above - I stretch the milk (draw air into it correctly for the first 10 seconds or so), and if I've done this right (which is most times) the milk looks perfect by the time I lower the steam wand deeper into the milk to stop introducing more air. From here it should be a cake walk to the finish line - it should just spin around, become even smoother, and come up to temperature. This is happening for me 10% of the time.

      The other 90% of the time, what happens is this. At some point after the wand has been lowered (tip is WELL below the milk surface), a loud growling starts to occur (sometime stops for a second or so, but generally doesn't stop). During this growling, large bubbles (approx 2-3mm diameter) are introduced into the milk. It is NOT air that gets drawn in, as per the usual milk stretching phase. If I had to say, they come from the wand itself (i.e. come in along with the steam?). By the time the milk is up to temperature, it's heart-breaking. These bubbles are not just sitting on the surface, they are well distributed throughout the whole jug!

      Anyone know what is happening? Do you think the steam is boiling the milk? Or is air coming into the steam thermoblock? I'm devastated - I'm proud of my latte art ability, but I can't do diddly squat right now. And there's nothing tasty about sea foam, compared with microfoam!

      Help!

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      • #4
        Update - my problems here may (or may not) be due to my steam thermoblock apparently getting hotter than it is supposed to (described in another thread).

        However, I have heard in some other threads of people making the milk "scream" inadvertently (apparently the milk objecting to the lousy steaming job!), even to the extent that one person claimed to have to wear ear-plugs while steaming the milk. Of course, it should be a relatively quiet process (certainly compared to my EM480 grinder!).

        Anyway, what causes this screaming? I wonder if it relates to my problem?

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        • #5
          Sometimes if the tip of the wand is quite near the bottom of the jug, it tends to scream. Just on a side note, to practice you can put room temp water in the jug and put a tiny touch of dish washing liquid in with it. Works well for me and saves chucking out liters of milk.

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          • #6
            hey Phil,

            Just watched your video (good work - you should put up some more).

            It looks to me like your failing to stretch the milk enough though, and i'm pretty sure that why the milk is screaming.

            You need to bring the steam tip a lot closer to the surface.

            What i find with my 6910 - and when steaming milk in general - is that you should ideally try to stretch the milk quite a bit until the milk gets to around 25-35deg. That's not to say give it big bubbles (which should most certainly be avoided) but just allow the milk to stretch a bit more before lowering the tip (ever so slightly) to bring it to temp.

            What you will find is that if you've done it correctly there will be no screaming, good microfoam (much like wet paint), and definitely no big bubbles.

            Hope this helps.

            -Aaron

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            • #7
              Pretty much agree with Aaron. My personal experience with the EM6910 (over the last 5-6 years) is that I never bury the wand in the milk....no need to.

              My personal technique involves placing the wand through the jug spout so it is on an angle to the milk.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Phil_Jones View Post
                7) the first gulp of air will tend to be excessive and create large bubbles.
                This won't happen once you've had a lot more practise.

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                • #9
                  Thanks for your replies, guys. I agree with not putting it too deep after the stretching phase. Actually, the video doesn't show very well the state of the stretching. White on white just doesn't show much at all! It's a funny thing this screaming. If I had to correlate it to anything, I'd say it does it when the milk is over-stretched - that is, good for cappuccino, but too thick for latte art. I've steamed over 5000 jugs of good milk, but this has got me beat at present. I was waiting for it to go away (I did 3 perfect jugs in a row a couple of days ago), but then it was back again. Right now, waiting for replacement relay to arrive for my control board, and I'll be back at it again. Been using my EM4800C for the last day or so, and my, PERFECT Microfoam, but at 2 minutes for the 200ml, it would want to be!!

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Phil_Jones View Post
                    ...It's a funny thing this screaming. If I had to correlate it to anything, I'd say it does it when the milk is over-stretched...
                    Yes, I believe you can simulate the same thing if you do it with a jug of water....which is how I used to practice many, many years ago.

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